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Slices of Life: The Unconfirmed Balloon

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containerships

“What’s that there in the sea”, she said, pointing at the large containerships moored off the harbour of Thessaloniki. The ships floated in bluish gray haze that made the mountains in the opposite shore vanish and turned the horizon into a smudgy limbo. It made the large ships look slightly unreal, like a matte painting.

It took me a moment to realize what she was pointing at, my eyesight not as good as hers.

“A bird. Maybe a buoy” I said and sipped my latte, immediately realizing that I was wrong. Birds that looked like common goldeneyes were diving near the harbour, but the item on the sea looked larger than them.

Apart from the haze permeating the whole city, the sky was cloudless. The sun was bright, but not exactly warm. We had caught one of the rare sunny days of the Christmas holiday.

I touched her hair, it was hot to the touch.

“Hot hair”, I remarked.

“Yea. I could manage with just a T-shirt.”

I had taken my jacket and hoodie off right after we had sat down on the benches outside the local yacht club. We had walked to the end of a wave-break, parts of it uncovered by low tides. Crumbling concrete encrusted with mussels and barnacles, drying out in the sun. The yacht club building and terrace had the same slightly run down feeling.

“I think it’s a balloon” I remarked, looking at the object that was drifting past the pier, still dozens of meters away. It glinted in deep red and yellow, like the large foil balloons that could last for weeks.

A crash nearby made my head snap around. A group of people were laughing and bending down to pick up coins and bills among the shards of what looked like pottery down on the concrete. Behind them there was a barbecue. The wind brought whiffs of frying sausage and lighter fluid that covered the scent of drying algae and mussels.

“I wonder if that’s a custom of some sort”, she said. I dredged my memory of any hints, but nothing came up.

“Dunno”, I said, and bit into a cookie we got with our coffees. I love that. Order a coffee or a beer here, and you’ll get cookies or nuts, even a slice of cake, for free. At home it often costs as much as the coffee.

“But that out there is a foil balloon.”

“It could be a motorcycle gas tank”, she said.

“Nah… it’s floating really high, if it was metal it would be riding lower.”

“But if it’s filled with air?”

I munched the rest of the cookie and washed it down with the latte, that wasn’t very good.

“There’s no scent of burning wood now”, she said after a while, squinting at the sea. Sparrows were dancing around the table, and I pretended I was throwing cookie crumbs at them. A woman in the next table over threw around actual crumbs, which made the birds lose interest in my lazy deception.

“Maybe they’ll burn stuff just in the night, for warmth. The day is warm enough.”

I stared at the object, which steadfastly refused to be recognized as anything sensible.

“Shit, I need to see it”, I said and got up. My steps were light, I was feeling physically good, very capable. No pain. The end of the pier was slippery with algae and moss. Still, just an indistinct clump of glittering something, drifting past our pier, getting closer to the actual shore in the north.

When I was walking back, she arched her eyebrows questioningly. I just spread my hands. No idea.

I sat down. It was a perfect, timeless, unhurried moment at the seaside. I could have used a beer, drank slowly just watching the containerships, the diving birds, enjoying the scents.

“Well, let’s go get the geocache and then go do the shopping. I’ll hit the toilet first.”

I got up and turned to watch the glittering thing on the sea. It would hit the shore in fifteen minutes. The cache was in the south.

Inside the bar the air was cool. The deep blue dancing afterimages of the sun on the sea blinded me.

mussels

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